Exhibition: Chen Chin

Accordian (1935) by Chen Chin

Ah, the 1920s and the 30s! The 'good old days' of the rise of the 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,' when Japan was on the march to superpower status. With our views of the period colored by movies like The Last Emperor and Blood on the Sun (starring James Cagney as a hard-boiled foreign reporter) there is a tendency to think that this was all about diplomatic blackmail backed up by Banzai-ing Japanese troops.

But allied to the hard power, Japan was also adept at deploying soft power. Chen Chin initially rose to fame as an artistic pawn in this game, when the Taiwanese artist's Nihonga-style art was promoted in her native Taiwan – then a colony of Japan – as 'Toyoga' (East Asian Painting). Her influences included Shinsui Ito, the famous painter of bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), but, unlike Ito's quietly confident geishas, Chen’s women always have an atmosphere of defensive serenity, as if trying to be pleasing, but not too pleasing under the eye of their colonial masters.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, ends July 23, 2006

July, 2006
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